Using your iPhone/iPad to Record Oral History

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Using your iPhone/iPad to Record Oral History

By: Joe Hoover | Information Technology | March 12, 2012
Using an IPad to record Oral Histories
Modified image Wikimedia Commons.

First let me admit this is not the last word on using an iPhone to record oral histories, it is just an attempt to get the dialog going, secondly you may notice the obvious omission of other mobile devices such as Android for use in recording. Omission does not mean that they shouldn't be used, they may be perfectly acceptable however the one nice thing about iPhone and iPad is that both the hardware and operating system are made by one manufacture making comparisons and quality control simpler.  I encourage others to post results they may have had using other mobile devices for oral history interviews. Lastly much of the content was excerpted from the testing and excellent work of Jeff Geerling. Check out his site if you are interested in even more in-depth information.

What a difference a couple of years can make in technology. Prices go down, megapixels and device and app quality go up.  While an iPhone/iPad might not offer all the quality control that an expensive camera or recording device can do for a large organization like the Smithsonian especially when they might be looking at reuse of the interview in a national exhibit, for a smaller museum/organization not only is using an iPhone/iPad acceptable but probably better than many of the magnetic video and audio recording devices that they were using in the past.

Key points to remember:

  • When recording, turning off Wi-fi may help to prevent background noise/feedback.

  • Turn on Airplane mode on your iPhone to prevent calls during a recording session.

  • Battery Life - make sure to fully charge your device or that it is plugged into a power source.

  • Storage - if you are going to be using your iPhone or iPad for recording video oral histories you never can have enough storage. Think about getting at least 32GB.

  • An iPod Touch can be used for recording audio but should not be used for video as the lens quality records at less than 1 megapixel.

  • I recommend using iPhone 4 and iPad 2 and above.

  • These are meant as suggestions not set in stone guidelines.

  • Having proper lighting and a recording environment still are important.

  • Technical specs for iPad and iPhone


For a recording app you might want to look at FiRe 2 from Audiofile Engineering.

The basic interface is fairly simple to use but it does have advanced features you can tap into like a variety of metadata standards, format conversion, and time markers and uploading to Dropbox or your own FTP server.


You can just use the Built-in camera that comes with the iPhone/iPad/iPod it handles different audio inputs, but without much configuration or level control, and no monitoring.

For a more fully featured camera app check out FiLMiC Pro, unfortunately it also has no audio controls.


While an iPad, iPhone, iPod is great to record on, their built in mics are not good for recording high quality audio. The biggest thing you are going to need is a good mic. There are many many different kinds of mics out their here are some suggestions:
•RadioShack 33-3013 Electret Condenser Lavaliere Microphone
•Crown Sound-Grabber-II Conference Microphone
•Audio Technica PRO88W-R35 Wireless Lavalier System
•Sony WCS-999 Wireless Microphone System
•Rode VideoMic Shotgun Microphone
•There are many others...

However, for all these mics you will need an Audio Input Adapter for your iPad/iPhone/iPhone - See the next section.


With an iPhone you will need an audio input adapter for most mics.


You can use a simple option and get a Monster iSplitter and plug a lavaliere microphone into each side. (Don't forget to use an audio input adapter with it)

GuitarJack Model 2, into which you can plug a stereo input source (or two microphones that go one in left, one in right channel). You can also use 1/4 inch Input without an adapter.


With an iPad in addition to recording with the headphone jack, you can also record with the iPad's Dock Connector to record two tracks (stereo) with one mic to the interviewer and one mic to the interviewee.

You'll need to have the USB adapter from the iPad Camera Connection Kit

And then, you'll need one of the following USB interfaces to translate analog inputs to the USB connection:

And finally you will need one of the following apps to support multi-channel recording and mixing


  • For out-of-the-box options for recording sound, here is one high-end and somewhat expensive solution: iM2
    (this does come with it own free app you can download from iTunes)

  • ...and one amazingly cheap and surprisingly useful solution: Flexible-mini-capsule-microphone


Tripod Mount

In order to attach an iPhone or iPad to a tripod you are going to need a lot of rubber bands and duct tape or you can try one of these solutions. Their are several solutions available.

  • Snap Mount For iPhone 4/4S - Unfortunately they are currently having a problem keeping up with demand and are out of stock.

  • Movie Mount for iPad 2 - I have not had a chance to try out  iPad Mounts yet but I like this one because of the ability to add a mic/lens/light to the mount.


Almost any camera tripod should work with the above mounts, however, I do have one recommendation that I have found compact and useful especially the tripod because of the magnetic feet which allows you to mount it on most metal surfaces.

iPhone Camera Stabilizer

While this might be a terrible solution for using oral histories it is great if you are recording while you are walking on a tour. One big drawback - there is no mount for a mic and I have found it quite impossible to balance the camera with a mic attached.